The exceptional Austrian designer Julia Koerner talks about the future of 3D printing as an interface between design, innovation and sustainability
In an interview with Julia Koerner, founder of JK Design
Julia Koerner Black Panther Collaboration with Ruth Carter - Photo by Marvel Disney
Author: House of Eden
She is an award-winning pioneer in 3D printing design. As an architect, Julia Koerner immersed herself in the world of fashion and revolutionized haute couture with her 3D innovations. Her designs for Iris van Herpen were the first 3D printed dresses at the Paris Fashion Week. Her costumes for the Marvel Black Panther movies have been awarded an Oscar and are exhibited in international museums worldwide.
The Austrian designer works at the convergence of architecture, product and fashion design. She has now launched her own clutch under the brand JK3D: plant-based material, on-demand, locally and individually produced. Is this the sustainable future of fashion? This is what we have been speaking about with Julia Koerner. She also tells us why nature is a role model for her 3D designs and how this promising technology can become suitable for the masses.
"We have to produce so sustainably to bring together a cycle in which not only we can survive, but also all animals and plants"
Julia Koerner - Photo by Ger Ger
What did you find your passion for 3D printing technology?
When I was 18, I wanted to learn two professions: fashion designer and architect. This was mainly due to the influence of my grandparents. My grandmother was a seamstress and always wanted me to be enthusiastic about fashion. While my grandfather, as an engineer, mainly suggested technological approaches to me. That's why I wanted to study architecture and fashion. But then I didn't pass the fashion entrance exam in Vienna and so I started with architecture. Today I am extremely grateful for this moment, because I believe that with a fashion education only, I couldn't do what I am doing now.
I never dreamed that 10 years later I would come back to fashion and work with the most famous fashion houses in Paris. Because without my architectural training, I probably would never have learned the technologies and methods of 3D printing. When I first developed product designs with 3D printing technology with Ross Lovegrove in London, I knew this was the future. I started thinking about how to make my own designs come true.
So how did you get from architecture to fashion?
I already worked regularly with fashion designers during my studies at the University of Applied Arts in Vienna. After my studies, I established good connections with 3D printing companies. I worked very closely with the company Materialise in Belgium. Then there was a moment when the Dutch haute couture designer Iris van Herpen wanted to do something with 3D printing for the Paris Fashion Week and Materialise recommended me to her.
Julia Koerner ARID Collection Re-FREAM - Photo by Ger Ger
These designs were the first 3D printed dresses ever, which received a lot of media attention and are now represented internationally in museums such as the Metropolitan Museum in New York or the Phoenix Art Museum. I then had further collaborations with Marina Hoermanseder, Swarovski and the oldest embroidery house in Paris. But these collaborations were quite short and it was more about the show effect. But I really wanted to experiment more with the materials and geometries and do more research.
I recently did this as part of the EU project Re-FREAM. For around 9 months I researched new technologies and worked on economical production methods. For example, we tested how to 3D scan people so that the algorithm then adds itself directly to the body. The finished product is then printed locally from sustainable materials, avoiding multiple work steps at different locations. With these innovative technologies, completely new products can be developed.
Where do you get inspiration from?
A huge source of my inspiration is nature and science. When I get inspiration, I always look at natural phenomena. At the moment I'm working intensively on the growth of fungi. I am even growing some myself and I am especially inspired by the geometries and designs, as well as the patterns and growth structures. I embedded this research into one of my latest designs too - The HY Clutch.
The clutch is inspired by the hymenium, i.e. the structure on the underside of the portobello mushroom. Nature is very inspiring not only aesthetically but also functionally, for example how things just grow and renew themselves while being very energy efficient at the same time. When it comes to personalities, my collaborations with the costume designer Ruth E. Carter are always a source of inspiration for me. The world of Hollywood is just completely different and there is still a lot to reinvent in the Marvel Universe.
Julia Koerner Setae Jacket for Chro Morpho Collection by Stratasys
What surprised you the most in the world of fashion?
In architecture, I was used to work in teams. Every team member has its own style, but is also expert in something. The work of others is always valued. In fashion, I've never really worked for a fashion house, it has always been collaborations where I've practically contributed my knowledge and design. But sometimes there is a lack of appreciation. The fashion world is very egocentric and it's always about one name.
At the fashion exhibitions, my work was sometimes mystified, for example it was said “the machine generated that” or “the laser printed that”. But it is always the human who writes the code behind. I think that's a pity. Therefore, many people may not know that I have been involved in some projects. I've been in this industry for 15 years and was already involved with the first 3D printed clothes. Personally, my team is extremely important to me, nothing works without them.
How can 3D design promote sustainability?
3D printing is already a sustainable manufacturing method as such: Because you only use the material that is actually needed. So there is no wear and tear. There is also the opportunity to use plant-based or biodegradable materials. What I also find extremely important is that with 3D printing you can produce on demand. With our HY Clutch, for example, we produce in our studio in LA for requests from the US and in Vienna for European customers. This also ensures local production and reduces the shipping footprint. Our LA studio is also solar powered and low energy efficient.
JK3D HY Clutch - Photo by Elena Kulicova
The entire bag is made of the same plant-based material and is therefore completely recyclable - even if it is more of a high-quality long-term product anyway. In addition, the design can also be easily personalised. For example different colors or initials can be printed, by slightly changing the code or the algorithm. The clutch is the first product that we are producing in a series and it can be printed within one day. I hope there will be enough traction, that we will get the opportunity to design more series like this. I clearly see the potential to transfer this method to clothing too.
The clutch is the first product that we are producing in a series and it can be printed within one day. I hope there will be enough traction, that we will get the opportunity to design more series like this. I clearly see the potential to transfer this method to clothing too.
What else does it take to make 3D printing suitable for mass production?
A lot has happened in the last 10 years. Today you can buy a 3D printer for your home at any hardware store. This is already a giant step in terms of availability. The more people deal with this technology, the cheaper it will be of course. But there aren't that many designers who really work with this technology yet. That's why I do a lot of collaborations to share my knowledge. Funding and investments are of course also very important to help designers to continue researching in this direction. Our creative projects in Vienna are currently being funded by the Vienna Business Agency.
What is your design message and vision for the future?
My message is: “The future is now”. We just have to think about what we can do now, what possibilities we have now and how we can implement ideas now - preferably the day before yesterday. I don't believe in predictions, but more in direct implementation. Again, nature is very important to me. Because if we look at how miracles are created naturally, we can learn from them, in order to let things grow the way nature does. We have to produce so sustainably to bring together a cycle in which not only we can survive, but also all animals and plants. In my opinion, 3D printing plays a major role in this.